Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Northern Ky.: Hosts state lawmakers

Consensus projects

Northern Kentucky becomes Frankfort North this week when it hosts more than half the General Assembly in a mix of social events, tours and six joint committee meetings. Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce organized Wednesday and Thursday's events under the banner of "Northern Kentucky United." The region's enviable ability to speak with one voice on capital projects helps explain why it no longer is eclipsed by Louisville and Lexington.

Squabbling Southwest Ohio could learn from Northern Kentucky's discipline in rallying around priority projects. But that doesn't mean Northern Kentucky can ease up.

Chamber President Gary L. Toebben says, "We are a donor area. We need to get a greater return on tax dollars we send to Frankfort." Boone County gets back only 30 cents on the dollar. Kenton and Campbell, only 50 cents. Given the state's strapped budget, Northern Kentucky needs to be single-minded.

It settled on three priorities this budget cycle: a $45 million, 6,500-seat multi-purpose center at Northern Kentucky University, state infrastructure aid to develop 15-acre Covington Riverfront West and a $5 million museum at Big Bone Lick State Park. Officials will testify on these projects and other issues before the joint appropriations committee, which meets Thursday at NKU.

Toebben will propose possible new revenue sources for capital projects, including expanded gambling at Kentucky horse tracks and higher cigarette taxes.

Northern Kentucky created a consensus committee 12 years ago when members of its legislative caucus realized they were being pitted against each other in Frankfort. Mayors, judge-executives, the Chamber, Tri-ed and other development groups all were given a place at the table. Each ranks their pet projects in order of priority, and a weighted average decides the consensus projects. "It's amazingly easy," says Chamber lobbyist Steve Stevens.

More than 70 legislators and Kentucky Gov. Paul Patton will attend events here, which include a riverboat cruise, a Reds game and tours on both sides of the river. Citigroup is the top sponsor. The "show-and-tell" helps state lawmakers see Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati's close regional links, including a new I-75 bridge project, Cincinnati's convention center expansion and new airport runways. Like Northern Kentucky United, the Bluegrass and Buckeye states need to pull together to make the most of limited revenues to grow our intertwined economies.

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